Women in the War

We are excited to announce an upcoming blog mini-series entitled Women in the War!

Women have held vital roles in wars throughout history, and the American Revolution is no exception.  Because women were typically not allowed to fight, every job they could do behind the line allowed one more able-bodied man to join the battlefield.  Some women, now called “camp-followers,” trailed the Continental Army and joined their encampments. Their motivations varied, but they were almost always put to work.  Some cooked while others did laundry and mended the soldiers’ uniforms.

Many women also became nurses, a role which plagued the Revolution with a constant demand for more workers. Some volunteered, although others were threatened or bribed to take the job.  By July 1776, the Continental Hospitals were allotted only one nurse for every ten patients, and one matron — a woman who supervised the nurses — for every one hundred patients. Nursing was one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs that women held during the war, with constant exposure to severe, life-threatening diseases.

Although many of the women who followed and helped the First Maryland Regiment are unknown to us today, one woman who we do know about is Margaret Jane Ramsay, wife of Captain Nathaniel Ramsay and sister of painter James Peale, who rose from ensign to captain.  After news of the tragic losses at the Battle of Brooklyn, she joined up with the Continental Army in an attempt “to help those most dear to her.”  As a captain’s wife, her role was different than that of most of the other women, and instead of doing manual labor, she became a hostess. Often staying with families in towns near the military encampments, she made beneficial connections while offering some protection to the families.  Later in the war, when her husband was taken prisoner, she went with him, and together they entertained the other officers, while “endeavour[ing] to make themselves as happy as their situation permited.” This opportunity would have been impossible for most women, but because her husband was an officer, the Ramsays were given special privileges even while he was a prisoner of war.  If you’d like to read more about Margaret Jane Ramsay, click here.

Keep an eye out for our more about Women in the War, coming soon!



“First Woman Nurses,” History of American Women, 18 May 2018.

Kaia Danyluk, “Women’s Service with the Revolutionary Army,” Colonial Williamsburg, 18 May 2018.

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2 Responses to Women in the War

  1. Taylor Blades says:

    So excited for this!


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